Astro-Artisans

"Jupiter and Io Redux" - the giant planet as seen by the Cassini probe. Credit: NASA/JPL/Ugarkovic
"Jupiter and Io Redux" - as seen by the Cassini probe. Credit: NASA/JPL/SSI/Ugarkovic

One of the best parts of the current golden age of robotic space exploration is the astounding work coming from people NASA terms ‘enthusiasts.’ (I just call them space geeks, which I mean in the nicest possible way.) These are non-professionals from every part of the world who have found inspiration in the stream of images and discoveries coming down daily from the space probes—and turn it into art.

They compose music, poetry, software and more, attempting to crystallize a sense of fascination with the otherworldly scenes that have opened up so widely in the last decade, thanks to the flotilla of active spacecraft. These people are amateurs, but make no mistake, their work is often as interesting as anything coming out of the space agencies. Their contribution in no way replaces the official material, but it’s a diverse complement to it.

There are hundreds of examples, but today I’m going to narrow them down to people who process the raw imagery published by government agencies and associated universities. They turn the black-and-white, rough-edged data sets into pictures that are frame-worthy stunners.

I’m going to further hone it down to three individuals who have made major contributions to the daily image stream on this site—mainly because I stole their work. Well, I get their permission and give them credit, so I guess it’s not really stealing. Still, my debt is real. In no particular order:

  • Gordan Ugarkovic – The picture at the top of this page is stunning, not only because of the subject matter, but also because of careful work by one of the best amateur image processors, Gordan Ugarkovic of Croatia. He describes himself as “a guy who does programming for a living, has a college degree in computer science, but in free time likes to fool around with image processing.” He finds images from Cassini (often not yet widely published elsewhere) and works his own magic to bestow them with brilliant and accurate color. Click his name to see more.
  • James Canvin – The UK’s James Canvin not only makes striking color renditions of Martian vistas from the raw data sent by the MER rovers, he even performs mathemetical analysis on the terrain to illuminate safe routes for future rovings.

    map of martian terrain
  • Stuart Atkinson – A lifelong amateur astronomer and public outreach educator living in Cumbria, England, Stuart is the author of 10 children’s astronomy and spaceflight books, has written for many magazines, newspapers and websites. He is well-known for his space-inspired poetry. Lately he has also been making beautiful imagery out of the pictures sent by the Phoenix Mars lander.

    martian dust grains

There are many other people doing amazing things with planetary data, and I’ll be posting more soon.

Meanwhile, whose work would you like to point out? (Including your own – don’t be modest.) Leave a comment below.

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